With the tearful parents of the children killed at the Newtown, Conn., school massacre watching from the gallery above, 16 Republican senators joined 50 Democrats and two independents to quash an attempt by conservatives to filibuster gun control legislation.
That was the first step last week to stem this country’s escalating firearm violence. It will be a perilous legislative road to get there.
This is the first time that Congress has taken up gun legislation in 19 years, when it banned certain assault-style weapons, only to allow the ban to expire a decade later.
President Obama has been holding campaign-style events to urge communities to nudge their members of Congress to support sensible background checks for most gun buyers, increase school safety and crack down on gun trafficking. (Right now private sellers at gun shows and Internet sales are exempt from conducting the criminal checks.) The goal is to make it harder for people with a criminal record or violent mental illness to get weapons.
Polls show that the vast majority of Americans, including gun owners and Republicans, want common-sense protections. They understand checks are not a panacea, and certainly criminals will always find illegal ways to get their hands on weapons.
But the point is to not make it so easy. Today, it’s way too easy for a criminal or the mentally unstable to legally buy a gun through the many loopholes that exist.
Critics of the legislation say it would not have mattered if such laws were in effect for the children of Newtown or the theater-goers in Colorado who were killed by mentally unhinged killers with legal assault-style weapons.
Perhaps not, but arming teachers with guns at schools, as some conservatives want to do, surely is not the answer, either. Ensuring schools have enough trained officers for protection is warranted, but the reality is officers, too, have been overwhelmed by killers armed with an arsenal of assault-style weapons, whether at schools or on the streets of our cities, including right here in Miami.
The legislation that will be considered in the next few weeks still would not ban assault-style weapons or the large-capacity magazines, both used in recent massacres. Though there will be amendments offered on the Senate floor to ban such weapons and magazines, they are likely to fail. We believe both bans would save lives, but politicians’ fear of the NRA during elections has made such common-sense reforms a pipe dream — for now.
The compromise legislation that was hammered out by pro-gun Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., requires background checks for Internet sales and at gun shows, where about 40 percent of current sales occur, but it is not a universal check. Personal sales would still be exempted.
Expect killer amendments to the bill over the next several weeks that seek to quash those sensible reforms. Among them: a proposal by South Carolina’s Lindsey Graham that would allow those who have been committed to mental institutions to buy guns once they go back into the community. Talk about reactionary nonsense.
In a nation where there are almost as many weapons as there are people, polls show 90 percent of Americans want sensible gun-control laws. The Newtown tragedy was a tipping point after the massacres at Columbine, Virginia Tech, Northern Illinois University and so on. How many more dead and maimed do we need before Congress acts?